Robot 6

The HTMLcomics shutdown: A bit of background

Gregory Steven Hart

Gregory Steven Hart

Although the press release was just sent out on Wednesday, HTMLcomics.com was apparently shut down a few weeks ago. Posters on this bulletin board were puzzled about where it went in April, and someone linked to this comment on Yahoo:

I just called today (4/22) and spoke to the guy’s wife. She said that he (the site owner) got in a LOT of trouble, the FBI got involved etc – and the site will not be back ever. It’s completely down. *sigh* back to reading comics the old fashioned way.

There are some interesting angles to this. It seems to be the first time that comics publishers have banded together like this to take down a site, rather than just sending out cease-and-desist notices, but it also may be unique. The owner of the site, Gregory Steven Hart, operated out in the open and made no attempt to conceal what he was doing; indeed, he seems to be convinced he was running a legal enterprise.

Before we go any further, let me state, emphatically, that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. I have interviewed people who were accused and then exonerated, and it’s not pretty. So we should probably reserve judgment on the case at hand.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to follow the footsteps of Gregory Hart across the internet. Someone at NERDSociety.com interviewed him back in April. At the time, Hart said he was basically a computer nerd who doesn’t actually read comics, that he really did think that what he was doing was legit, and that the publishers were choosing to ignore him:

Both Marvel and DC leave me alone as long as I stay 6 months to a year behind. Image is more complicated due to their book titles changing often. Also, htmlcomics.com is non commercial, we don’t sell the books for download and they are unable to be downloaded–consider it like a lending library.

And here, he claims to have actually spoken to Marvel:

We have spoken with Marvel’s legal department and other lead officers within their corporate structure. All is good. Our approach is not distribution, hence the reason we’ve been around for over a year, and will be around for a long time to come. Google is using our site as a reference of how to create an online library, and not violate copyright laws.

Indeed, the website for his company, Database Engineers Inc., actually includes HTMLcomics in the Portfolio section. He certainly was up front about it. And perhaps with reason: When Lucas Siegel posted about HTMLcomics.com at Blog@Newsarama in January 2009, commenters called him a snitch and worse.

Hart apparently has had at least one run-in with the law, according to this newspaper article from 2007, which states that after Hart was arrested on charges of driving with a suspended license and resisting arrest, he sent out spam e-mails accusing the arresting officer of being a pedophile. (Hart’s defense was that the e-mails didn’t actually state that but merely named the officer and asked, “How is he a suspect as a child molester? Is he homosexual? Does he have sex with boys under the age of 16? Regularly?”) The officer sued.

Hart also had a novel legal theory about why his site was not violating any copyrights but was, in fact, not much different from a library. He actually asked about it at FindLaw.com but didn’t care much for the answers he got.

Maybe he should have paid more attention.

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Comments

11 Comments

ComicBootyLord-5000

May 6, 2010 at 7:28 am

Way to ruin your life, buddy.

I’ve never heard of his site, but anyone reading this, if you acquire digital comics from bad places, cut the shit. You’re killing the industry you love.

That being said, I do think the publishers as a whole need to make better efforts in getting people comics using a distribution method that they seem to want to read them in. The reason the iTunes model works so well is that everything is there. Good or bad.

Ordering from Previews is a pain in the ass and reading a great comic review and then finding out your local shop didn’t order enough (or is hiding 10 copies behind the counter for next month to sell at 4x the cover price) just plain sucks. Since I’ve started working from home, and bought a house and had a baby, I don’t have time to go to the skeevy comic store 10 miles away. I pick up stuff here and there when I’m at a grocery store or whatever. But I don’t think of all the great comics I’m missing. I’m on a computer every day, think of all the missed opportunity’s comic publishers have missed out on selling to me that way.

Fooey on pirates and bootleggers, but a quartier-foo on the publishers marketing team for not shoving advertisements down the bootleggers throats and giving those kids viable alternatives to physical comics.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and this guy was incredibly ignorant–even willfully so.

i love htmlcomics…….. miss it & wish to see again. curse to blocker.

That FindLaw thread is hilarious. Nice find.

really bummed rite now.just learned abt the site a few days ago.. =(

I’d love to know how his lawyers will handle his defence.

when i found htmlcomics I already had a subscribstion to marvel digital comics and kept it i think they did wrong with this guy because when you get a sample of something it makes you want to buy them i’ve read books and turn around and bought the paperback copy and new I would enjoy the book with out worry I have over a thousand books but stoped buying during ruffer times this site helped fill in gaps if dc is worried about this why dont they do more like marvel and put older issues only subscriptions as well.

Considering he tried in the past to ruin another mans life by accusing him of being a pedophile, this guy gets no sympathy from me.

Why do people always assume these things ruin the industry. People who like comics, want to read fresh editions, not old ones, since then they are easily obtainable from any store that buys and resells old comics. If someone likes paper version they will surely buy it for easy reference. Fresh comic and fresh movie only has the max effect, not when they are shown in tv 10x our bought as used. More or less sounds like bullying, since there is also a good way to earn cash. A alternative way for publishers. Sad that publishers don’t care about state of comics nor the art of it, only the amount of cash they can produce.

This person doesn’t understand what the library exemptions – which do exist – were put in place to do. They are exclusive to preservation of media which may otherwise be lost to future research. This is why Google could argue what they are doing is protected since their primary purpose is not “access” but “preservation.” They have also been very careful to tread that line by limiting access.

What this person has done is a blatant infringement of copyright. Period. Full stop. Did he work with DC, Marvel and the independents to license the material for distribution? It doesn’t look like it. The FindLaw thread was really just sad in how he kept trying to twist things to fit his own wishes rather than admit to the very real differences between what a library is and does and what he is doing. (Libraries pay a great deal of money to license electronic resources for their patrons.)

sometimes people get me so angry

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